How to start a business using design thinking. Lawyers Design School – a case study

Legal design thinking in real-life

Legal design thinking in real-life aims to help transform the legal profession by giving real-life examples of human-centered design in the legal space

  • What it really looks like
  • The lessons learned
  • What success looks like 

It will help lawyers start imagining what legal design thinking can mean in your work, your business and your community. You’ll get real examples and inspiration to spur you on for more happy clients and make yourself a happy lawyer.

A case study: Lawyers Design School

We built the Lawyers Design School using design thinking rather than a traditional approach to a start-up. It was an interesting journey and ultimately saved me time and money. 

So if you’re curious about starting a legal business or service or thinking of improving your firm, this case study is for you.

A new kind of learning for lawyers: The initial concept

The first idea was a consultancy business in legal design thinking. I planned on providing project-based services to law firms and in-house teams and helping them with their challenges and development projects. 

I already had co-design workshops in the consultancy model. The foundation of design thinking is “Learning by doing together” so the team had to get their hands dirty in the co-creation process (regardless of the business model). 

But as I began applying design thinking to my business model I got new insight into what my customers wanted.  So I pivoted to meet the need and the business looks nothing like how I planned in the beginning. Sounds daunting but it saved me oodles of time and money and stopped me from going too far with an idea I thought would be great (but no one else did).

The concept: Start with your vision and your “why”

Get clear on the bigger purpose of your venture before you start renting an office.

Understand and define your why because it provides direction and guidance when you need to make big and sometimes hard decisions for your business. It keeps you grounded when things don’t work the way you planned and gives you the motivation to continue. 

My “why” for starting a new legal design business was to ensure access to justice for everyone. It’s the “why” that’s been driving me since high school when I decided to go to law school. Everyone, regardless of their background and wealth, must have access to justice and equity.

The process: Discovery Phase

Once I had my “why”, it was time to talk with my potential clients to find out what they hoped for in a legal design service. In legal design, we call this the discovery phase.

Identify the ideal clients

The first step was identifying my ideal clients: The people my business would love to serve.

Interview the ideal clients

The scary part: Contact the ideal clients asking for an hour of their time. 

I did two sets of interviews for different age groups. The questions were open-ended, and I didn’t know the answers or have any idea where the conversation would go. It could go down the toilet!

All you have is your curiosity, your ability to listen and a loose plan on what you might be talking about with the interviewees.

Gather as much data as possible

Do as much discovery work as you can. Read reports on the legal market and the legal profession to understand the future trends in law.

I benchmarked the legal design space and learned about the other businesses in the same industry and what I could learn from them.

Question for you?

  • What could this discovery work look like for you?
  • What clients could you approach for an interview? 
  • What data could you gather and from which sources?

Listen to your data

The next phase of the legal design process is to analyze the data and crystallise the insight the data has to offer. My favorite visual tool for this phase is mind mapping.

It’s funny how you think you know what will come from this process. Because you’ve gathered the data, it’s already in your head, right? But processing the data with tools like mind mapping always produces new understanding and fresh insight. Connections that you did not see before are just waiting for you to find them!

The “A-ha” Moment

Like always, I thought I had the answers, yet the analysis shocked me. There was something I hadn’t noticed screaming at me.

Lawyers don’t want to outsource legal design thinking to a consultant. They want to learn legal design thinking themselves! 

As one interviewee put it: you cannot outsource thinking.

Test your idea

What would I do with the insight? I had to decide if would stay on the consultancy path or find a new solution. 

The answer was glaring – I had to scrap the old idea and find a better one. 

After a few brainstorming sessions, the idea of Lawyers Design School was born. Because we were in the testing stage, the idea was rough. It was enough to get the basic concept together so I could test it. 

Legal design thinking is about testing quickly and moving forward rather than wasting months on a business plan for the testing to fail. It’s the magic of legal design thinking – you get to the core quickly through constant testing.

How to test your idea

The best way is to get it in front of your clients and get their feedback. And if you’re working on a business or something to sell, not just any kind of feedback, but whether they buy it.

Ask them: Would they use their money and buy it? 

That’s the best way to validate your idea: With buying customers. 

Sell your idea first and then build it, not the other way around.

To do this. I built a simple sales page of my first Lawyers Design School with the basic information on the school and a pitch. It was a landing page because I didn’t have a website! All I had was a rough outline of the school and the value proposition for the clients.

I posted the sales page link to social media and bought paid ads on Linkedin for 50 Euros. 

And then I waited. 

I sold four seats to the first school, and those seats were my validation. The sales were good enough to get the course content ready and workshops organised. 

You may think it’s a low number to put in all the work to create the product, but I say you have to start somewhere. In design thinking, you don’t focus on quantity as much as on quality. What do you need to learn, and what’s the best way to learn it.

The start: A new legal design business is born

Starting Lawyers Design School involved “doing the work”. It was scary at times, but the steps made it easy to get the insight to make the business successful. 

Not guessing, but doing the work.

If I had followed the traditional path of building a business that I thought would work, it would have failed. Instead, I did the work, found my customers and listened to what they needed and what they would buy. Then I tested it to see if people would buy it – and they did.

No guessing, but doing the work and it can work for you too. The process works every day across thousands of industries. 

So this is the first example of legal design thinking in the legal industry – it has a role, and it’s the future. 

Ready to stop guessing and build a business you love? Drop me a line, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Legal design thinking: IRL. Episode 20.

You’ve just read a summary of my LinkedIn Live. Each week I provide actionable advice and tips for law firm owners on how to get more happy clients and be happier lawyers with the help of legal design thinking. 

If you’ve read something that interests you please join me next week. 

 You can catch a replay of episode 20 here or join me live and ask questions.

Legal Design Thinking: IRL. Episode 20. A case study: Lawyers Design School – building business with design thinking

Want to chat about it?

Feel free to DM any questions or join me on LinkedIn every Wednesday at 8 am ET where you can ask me about legal design and growing your law firm. 

Follow me at  @lawyersdesignschool for more tips and tools.

Prefer email? Drop me an email at [email protected] And while you’re here, take a peek at the Lawyers Design School and check out other ways to use legal design thinking to grow your law firm and thrive in your business.

Watch all the Happy customer and happy lawyers episodes.

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